The UK should improve its response to child trafficking and provide more specialist services for children who have been trafficked, the US State Department has said.

According to the influential Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report: “While (UK) authorities continued to identify a large number of potential trafficking victims, the victim identification and referral system failed to assist many victims of trafficking, particularly children.”

ECPAT UK has welcomed the report’s recommendations, including improvements to “multi-stakeholder oversight and specialised services for child victims,” following criticism about the response to child trafficking in the UK and concerns over the number of trafficked children who go missing from care.

The annual TIP Report provides a global overview of the nature and scope of trafficking in persons and the range of anti-trafficking measures and initiatives employed by governments in 188 countries. ECPAT UK was amongst contributors who submitted written and oral evidence on the situation in the UK.

In its latest report, the US State Department acknowledges ECPAT UK’s long-standing concern that victims continue to be criminalised for crimes they may have been forced to commit: “Some victims were detained and prosecuted for crimes committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking.”

The report’s recommendations also reinforce a number of historic ECPAT UK campaign calls for improvements to the protection system for trafficked children, including mandatory safeguarding training for frontline practitioners, and specialist safe accommodation and other support services.

For over a decade, ECPAT UK has consistently campaigned for a system of legal, independent guardianship for all trafficked and separated children to improve the UK’s response to trafficked children and is pushing for a national rollout of the Government’s child trafficking advocates trial, which is currently under way.  

The report also references the high-profile independent inquiry into systematic child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, between 1997 and 2013, as an example of “wide scale negligence and wilful ignorance on the part of police and social services” to the crime of child sex trafficking.  

Chloe Setter, Head of Advocacy, Policy & Campaigns, ECPAT UK, said: “The TIP report acknowledges important progress on tackling human trafficking in the UK but highlights the inadequate response to child victims, who are arguably the most vulnerable of all those affected by this horrific crime.

“It is not acceptable that authorities fail to identify those children who have been trafficked or are at risk of trafficking. And it is unforgivable that we continue to see children going missing from care only to be re-trafficked elsewhere. The Government must ensure it provides sufficient training and resources to local authorities in order to protect children and ensure they have access to the specialist support required to rebuild their young lives.”